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Firefighting drones extinguish 10-story blaze in China demonstration

High-rises present a special challenge to firefighters, whose ladders only reach about 100 feet. With the expansion of cities around the world, those challenges are growing. Chinese firefighters recently demonstrated a possible solution: using drones to lift firehoses into the air.

Firefighters in the Chinese city of Chongqing recently used drones to put out a 10-story blaze in just 15 minutes. (The drones have a 20-minute battery life.) They carefully choreographed the test, however. Material was mounted on the outside of a concrete tower: five tons of firewood, 661 pounds of heating oil, and 220 pounds of gasoline. A set of drones lifted firehoses to the top of the blaze and gradually worked their way down.

Test vs. reality

Rain Noe over at Core77 points out that this doesn’t reflect a real-life high-rise blaze, in which much of the fire is inside the building and requires crews working from the interior to extinguish it. However, drones could help with the flammable material on the outside of many buildings, such as aluminum panels with polyethylene insulation. In 2017, the Grenfell Tower fire in London killed 72 people and injured more than 70 others. The residential building inferno was so severe because of the flammable insulation and cladding on its exterior.

Even without firehoses, drones are a key component of modern firefighting arsenals. Drones with thermal-imaging cameras, for instance, can pinpoint the hotspots of a building as well as recognize the location of people within, helping firefighters concentrate their efforts. Drones also survey large blazes, such as the wildfires that plague California and other Western states every year. And they can be used after the fact to survey the damage to help with recovery and reconstruction efforts.

None of those tasks are as dramatic as a drone putting out a blaze in the Chongqing test. But for now, such surveillance operations are having a much bigger real-world impact.

Image credit: iChonquing



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Sean Captain is a Bay Area technology, science, and policy journalist. Follow him on Twitter @SeanCaptain.